The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 11, 2005


Learning all about the swap shed

I must admit that I'm not the one in the family who takes our trash to the dump. Oops, I really mean "transfer station," but "dump" just rolls off the tongue. It is my husband who buys the dump sticker every year, places it on the front fender of his car, and visits the dump once or twice every fortnight.

Carol Foster places the Household Goods Recycling brochure on the bulletin board at the swap shed.

As for the swap shed, I have been made aware of its existence through the thoughtfulness of friends and acquaintances who have, over the years, brought me items from there that they believed I might be able to use. Bea Shneider, a colleague of mine at the Mosquito, has provided me with toys for my grandchildren, plates and mugs to use in our summer cottage, and books to read on vacation. Jon Golden, one of my egg customers, presented me with a small wire basket in the shape of a chicken to collect my eggs. Mary Zoll brought home a collection of egg cartons from the swap shed and called to say they were in her garage waiting to be picked up. Recently, while celebrating a friend's birthday, Zoll, wearing a long skirt with African animal designs printed along the hem, proudly announced, "It came from the swap shed."

Household Goods Recycling Ministry

So what goes on at the swap shed when the dump is open (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)? I paid a visit to the shed last Tuesday, having arranged to meet Carol Foster there at 10:10 a.m., "no earlier or there will be nothing to show you," said Foster. I parked my car to the left of the shed (wrong!) and then went inside to watch as people started to bring items in — books and household goods such as glassware, a large decorated pillow maybe for a pet to sleep on, and a coffee maker. Foster is

"Anyone want a garment bag, a pillow for a pet or a book?" asks Bea Shneider, a proofreader at the Mosquito. Shneider arrives for work loaded down with items she has just picked up at the swap shed.

a frequent visitor to the swap shed. While keeping an eye out for things she and her family might use, she is involved in collecting items for the Household Goods Recycling Ministry, Inc. (HGRM), which has a 9,000 square foot warehouse at 530 Main Street in Acton, across from the Acton Post Office. The mission of this organization is to donate recycled household goods to needy individuals and families in eastern Massachusetts. "The main focus of our group is getting help for the homeless, as well as for needy victims of domestic violence," says Foster. "In one month we were able to help 200 families and send a truckload of bedding and 27 suitcases of clothing to 13 Katrina families at Otis Air Force Base. We also were able to furnish 35 to 40 apartments during that period."

"We need volunteers. We are an all-volunteer group. To find out more about us go online at," continues Foster. "The Acton Girl Scouts fix Barbie Dolls that are donated. Books go to needy children; pet supplies go to the Buddy Dog Society; playthings to Toys for Tots at Christmas time. I collect all year long." Foster takes items from the swap shed to HGRM every week, but she urges those who are able to drop things off themselves, Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the HGRM office in Acton. "People want to do good and once they find us they are overjoyed to donate," says Foster. As we are about to part, she mentions Jill Henderson of Sunset Road, (1-978-369-6534) who is a contact person and a member of the HGRM board.

A great place to socialize

"The dump, it's my entertainment and social outlet. I'm single, don't have children in school and don't go to soccer practice. I don't do a lot of other things people do to be with people," reports Mary Zoll. "The dump is one of my social activities. I've met Lois Adams, Bob and Jackie Engelhardt at the swap shed. Jackie has grandchildren so she collects books, toys and videos for when the kids come for a visit. When they outgrow them she takes them back.

Mary Zoll shows off her long print skirt decorated with African animals along the hem.

Some people go shopping. I find lots of adventure and excitement at the swap shed; it relieves boredom," continues Zoll. "I go to the swap shed three times a day, maximum. ... It's compulsive behavior, I'm aware of that. I don't go every single day when I'm too busy at MIT."

Zoll was involved with initiating "Pass it Forward Day," held for the past several years at the dump in early spring. It is a day when Carlisle residents are urged to bring in particular items. Different categories such as warm clothing, cell phones, children's toys, clothing and blankets are set up around the dump. Amy Fennick (1-978-369-5291) has been in charge. Charities are invited to come in. Zoll, who was in charge of clothing, took home children's clothing for a Kenyan woman who in turn took them home to children in Kenya. Carlisle residents have been very generous, reports Zoll.

Throughout the year Zoll collects "professional" clothing, which she takes into MIT for Clothing Day, where students may find the appropriate wear for going to job interviews. As our interview comes to a close, Zoll shows me some of her favorite things acquired at the swap shed — two 8x10 oriental rugs, a telescope for looking at wildlife outside her dining room window, a gumball machine at the side of the room. Zoll collects unicorns in all shapes and sizes. "Jon Golden gave me that unicorn mug," she says pointing to a nearby table. "My friend Sarah Siedler found a unicorn in a box of dishes at the swap shed and gave it to me. Some people take so much stuff; they are greedy, while others are looking for specifics." Zoll believe in "share and share alike."

"I just like stuff"

Jon Golden collects computer parts and VCRs. Here he displays stone-laden pins, bangles and belt buckles made from electronic components.

Jon Golden, who works late into the night from his home running 3D Concepts, which sells equipment for stereophotography, takes time off during the day to visit the swap shed. "I just like stuff. I'm not interested in dishes, glassware, or home furnishings," he tells me. "I collect old VCRs, non-working electronics." When Golden moved to Carlisle five years ago he started taking his trash to the dump and found "the famous swap shed". The computer parts, floppy drives, and armatures of VCRs are what he is looking for. Some of the parts he collects go into recycled art, specifically the jewelry made by his friend, Todd Krieger (See photo XXX).

"The swap shed is a great example of recycling. We are such a wasteful country," says Golden. "And the swap shed is a great place to socialize, to just hang out; it's very informal. You can be there for 10 minutes or an hour if you get talking to people. It's a physical place to come to, a part of the fabric of Carlisle, like Ferns, the post office, and the library. It's like an old-time meeting place. I'd say there are 20 to 30 regulars who come to the swap shed."

Over the years Golden has provided useful items for neighbors and friends. A folding portable dog ramp to get a dog into the car was indispensable to Kay Fairweather when her large dog Cleo lost the use of her hind legs. Bob Daisy was on hand one day when Golden brought in plate racks from his broken-down dishwasher. " Are those from a GE model 2800 dishwasher," asked Daisy? If so, I can use them." Golden invited him back to his house where Daisy was then able to take parts he could use out of the old machine. "I collect crayons, magic markers and art supplies for Sarah Siedler's mother, who is an art teacher. Sarah was the first person I met at the swap shed. Oh, and did I tell you about the time I took a large decorated left-over birthday cake to the swap shed and served it on plastic paper plates and forks that had come from the swap shed" adds Golden with a twinkle in his eye.

Golden had one final thought to share, a specific concern for what goes on at the dump. His concern and the concerns of others I spoke with had to do with the number of people who drive to the dump without stickers. "Chris and Jim, the town workers at the dump, are vigilant, but they can only do so much," says Golden. Golden would like to see dump stickers sold at the dump. "Selling them for $15 instead of $10 would be a way to raise some extra money for the town," he suggests. Another person I spoke with thought a better idea might be to raise the cost of a dump sticker to $40 or $50 and use the added revenue to hire a sticker-checker, posted at the gate during dump hours, to turn away stickerless vehicles, directing residents to the police station.

So what have I learned about the swap shed? It's a great place to recycle almost anything, especially household goods for needy families. It's a great place to socialize and make new friends in Carlisle. Then there is always a chance you may find something you need or something you can take home for a friend or the neighbor next door.

Ed. Note: Yes, Carlisle has a transfer station, but everyone who was interviewed for this article calls it the dump. A follow-up article interviewing members of the DPW staff will appear in an upcoming Mosquito.

Some final dos and don'ts -
swap shed etiquette from
people who should know
  • Only books go in the bookcase.
  • People who plan to stay for a while should not park in front of the shed.
  • Don't block the area to the left of the shed. Leave it empty for people unloading their cars.
  • Bring things in as early in the day as possible so that people have a chance to look them over and take them home; it's a shame to bring items in 20 minutes before closing time. Most things that are left in the shed at closing time go into the hopper.
  • Try to keep pieces of an item together. If you don't want it, leave it intact for the next person.
  • Wrap toys, puzzles and games in plastic bags so that pieces are not lost.
  • Don't throw things and try not to break anything.
  • If you come across broken glass or dangerous items, try to remove them so that someone else doesn't get hurt. Remember that children explore the swap shed.
  • Put a label on an item with any useful information: does it work; does it work except for one feature; does it work but needs a new blade or a new chain or other parts?
  • Try not to take everything in sight; give others a chance at finding things.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito